Life

Growing Up Mulligan

It's hard to be hip when your dad's a VJ.

By Kate Siobhan Mulligan 6 Aug 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Kate Siobhan Mulligan [noun]: 1) a creative writing student at UBC 2) a travel junkie 3) jesus freak 4) [verb] to be ridiculously good-looking and Irish.

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Pre-awkwardness, circa the Zig Zag years.

The word "mulligan," in golf, means a second chance. In my father's case, it's also a fitting name for a former Mountie turned legendary Canadian DJ of the '60s and '70s, and the first Canadian VJ of the '80s and '90s.

Despite the fact that my dad was something of a Canadian music icon -- who interviewed everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Frank Zappa on shows like Good Rockin' Tonight and MuchWest -- I was an extravagantly geeky child, and this bewildered everyone. The offspring of a music guru and Ms. Burnaby 1967 should not strut around in vests with pictures of cats on them or have such awkwardly big ears.

As fate would have it, the term mulligan would one day become suitable for me. My father was determined not to let my nerdiness ruin a musical inheritance that should rightfully be mine.

Pop music ABCs

My parents lived in posh West Vancouver and were determined to raise their four children next to the ocean. Because I was the baby girl I was invisible to my brothers, so I was left to explore the world on my own.

I usually chose to excavate the piles of music in my father's office. In the five houses we inhabited, each office was essentially the same: wood floors, bright windows, CDs in no particular order stacked high above my head, autographs and photos strewn about, and his computer and recording equipment in the middle of it all. Every CD known to man was amassed in these offices. Later, my older brothers would secretly pawn hundreds of them at a time for beer money. I would examine CD covers and liner notes until bedtime but it was a different language to me: why is David Bowie wearing make-up? How could Stevie Nicks be a girl? What's a Sex Pistol?

Regardless of my lack of musical intellect (probably due to my mere seven years on the earth) my father hired me to work in his home office. My job was to sort all those CDs into alphabetical order for what was, at the time, a massive $5 an hour. During these long, seemingly endless days, I learned the names of many bands that I wouldn't listen to for another decade. My father would drink wine and tinker on his computer, occasionally messing my hair and telling me that The Rolling Stones goes under R, not T. I would smile my cross-bite smile, squint at him through my eyeglasses, and appreciate the attention.

My father loved me through these gawky and spandex-ridden years. He dreamt music, he thought music, he talked music, but he found a way to love me through my foreign language of Dork. That said, we also had our own particular kind of shared experiences. We'd learned, for example, to master comfortable silences, sitting quietly in our car, while other people would pull up and yell "TDM!" through their rolled-down windows. Occasionally homeless people would come squeegee our windshield and then ask for an autograph.

Or there were other, more homegrown moments. Sometimes my dad would flip on the radio, get me to snap along to the rhythm of some bluesy number, and then turn it off for 30 seconds. If I was still on beat when he turned it back on, I got spoiled rotten.

I want it that way

"Spoiled rotten" was what my father used to say to lure me into doing pretty much anything. I spent most of my late childhood backstage, my nose stuck in the latest Goosebumps book, waiting for the spoiling to begin. My father would tote me in like a suitcase and prop me up on an amp, and I would morph into a tiny fumbling secretary. I would write things down, hand things to people and field phone calls. Occasionally he would use me as a desk: my back was the surface and my pockets were the drawers. But if I behaved, I would end up on TV, usually just standing to the side looking dorky in whatever vest I was wearing that day. Sometimes I would wave. Sometimes I would fall down. Sometimes I got to talk and say "Coming up next!" as excitedly as I could muster. All the time, I remained as uncool as possible.

It wasn't until I was 12 that I learned to work a radio. And I fell in love with the first song that rattled my little ears. Unfortunately, it was "Quit Plain' Games (With My Heart)" by the Backstreet Boys. It would be four long years until my heart stopped jumping at the thought of Brian Littrell's dimples and soul-melting high notes. I'm pretty sure my father was ashamed to be seen with me during this time. But I'd finally fallen in love with music. Terrible music, but it was still music, and my father noted this. Although my taste made him cringe, I had started to speak his language, and he nurtured that as best he could. And it worked, because not too much later, my musical tastes took a sharp turn.

Sweet child

It started in my grade-nine drama class. The assignment was to perform a lip-synched song to the assembled school at lunchtime. My group picked "Paradise City" by Guns n' Roses. I was chosen to be Axl Rose for my manly good looks and my unusual level of tolerance for mockery. To memorize the words to the eight-minute song, I listened to it every night in my room for a month. The Backstreet Boys stared down at me from their posters on the wall, looking slightly disappointed and very lonely.

But when the moment came for my group to perform, I had become Axl Rose. Clad in a ripped-up monster-truck T-shirt, a red bandana, tight short shorts, fake tattoos and a beard made of dark brown eye shadow, I took the stage with the rest of the gang. I loved every second of it: from nailing Axl's trademark shuffle to high-fiving the audience, to the cheers and the laughter, I ate it up.

When my father saw the video of the performance, he said he had never been so proud. Except, perhaps, that I was dressed as a man and seemed to be enjoying it.

Teen Spirit

So I abandoned BSB at the gates of GNR. Guns n' Roses took my adolescent hand and flung me into the decade-old '80s hair band world, ruled by groups like Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe and Bon Jovi. My whole style and attitude changed. I decorated myself with studded things. I got a piercing and a tattoo. I wore raver jeans so big they doubled as a sleeping bag. I said words like "man" and "dude" and "rock on."

My father took the cue, and led me even farther back in time. He would show me old videos of himself interviewing Jimi Hendrix, or photos of him drinking with Janis Joplin. He left Led Zeppelin, Clash, and Doors CDs on my pillow. He would call me into his office and make me sit on the floor and listen to vinyl records before dinner. At the table, he would quiz me about what I'd just listened to before I was allowed desert. I was eating it up. Once I had an appetite for rock and roll, he carefully began to serve up sides of renowned musicians from other genres -- Miles Davis, John Coltrane, B.B. King, CCR, J. Geils, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters, Pink Floyd, Duke Ellington, and Bob Dylan. He was teaching me how to speak music.

Jesus Rock(s)

My father was unrelenting about the whole ordeal. My brothers had settled into Rage Against The Machine, and my dad longed for a protégé, someone with whom he could unpack his decades of experience in rock, blues and jazz. Being the youngest daughter, I was an unlikely candidate, but the venture promised much spoiling. So I began to stow away in his office and make my own mix tapes and radio shows. I taught myself to use the soundboard, and I had an endless supply of CDs to rummage through for material. Back then, the equipment only recorded to tape cassettes, so I ditched my CD player and went retro. My mixed tapes were a hit at school. I was becoming my father's daughter.

Soon my '80s phase progressed into an overall love for rock and blues around the time I was 16. I had also become a born-again Christian at summer camp. My dad says the conversion started when I was 12, when I spent the two-hour drive home from camp "quoting scripture." I was baptized at 16. I had pulled a serious mulligan. This caused much tension in the house, considering my oldest brother had become a Buddhist on his travels in Thailand. Christmas is still quite the experience. I became a strange teenager who had impeccable musical tastes, was nicknamed "the rockstar" and hitchhiked to a Christian youth group Wednesday nights. I never found a problem between the music I listened to and what I believed in. To me, Music and Jesus met in the middle and high-fived.

For the record

I pulled a few more mulligans by the time high school was out. When I dropped ballet for snowboarding, my dad said OK. When I traded my geeky multicoloured glasses in for trendy black emo frames, he said cool. When I traded spandex for ripped jeans, he said thank god. When I turned 18, my parents gave me a leather jacket, a plane ticket to anywhere, a bottle of Jack Daniels and a certificate for a tattoo. The tattoo became a music note on my hip. But the ultimate gift was the night of my prom/grad dance, when I was presented with my graduation present.

While my friends and classmates got brand new cars or big time cheques, at the Mulligan household, I got spoiled rotten. After we popped a bottle of Dom Perignon, my dad gave me my first record player. It was fully restored into an aged brown leather suitcase, with speakers on the side, making it portable and incredibly unique. The gift came as an announcement to the world that I was now fluent in two languages.

In my recent times, my father and I have traded roles. He taught me how to speak Music. He taught me to love records; in fact, record shopping on Main Street is now a Boxing Day tradition for all the Mulligan kids. He taught me to listen to everything: the words, the rhythm, the spaces between the notes. Now, he has to sit patiently as I teach him how to use an iPod. He fidgets and stares at me blankly. I ruffle what's left of his hair and tell him that The Rolling Stones will show up under R, not T.

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